July 17, 2007
Helping Your Fellow Man May Be Good For Safety
By Michael D. Shaw
It’s no secret that a spirit of cooperation will lead to a safer workplace, but did you know that once someone is helped or benefits from good fortune, he is more likely to help out a stranger in need?
Experiments run some years ago arranged for there to be money left in a phone booth, whereupon the “lucky” finder was then confronted by a needy stranger. Compared to the control group, the lucky group was much more likely to offer assistance.
Now, Michael Taborsky of the University of Bern (Switzerland) has shown that rats help each other, as well. In fact, cooperative behavior of female rats is influenced by prior receipt of help, regardless of the identity of the partner.
The experimental design involved a mechanism whereby pulling a lever would produce food for a rat’s partner, but not for itself. The rats who got the free food were 21% more likely to help an unknown partner than those who did not receive this rodent charity. (Generalized reciprocity)
And, the rats were 50.7% more likely to help a specific rat who had helped them in the past. (Direct reciprocity)
While biologists work out the apparently counterintuitive evolutionary notion of cooperation among unrelated animals, it gives us humans no room for lame excuses in our own working communities. Or, as it was put a long time ago: The life you save may be your own.